Dean Shacklett, veteran newsman and retired Olympian editor, died June 30. He was 88.
Shacklett, affectionately known as Shack, was born Aug. 20, 1927, in Tacoma and grew up there. After a term in the Marines, where his journalism career began as a photographer for Leatherneck magazine, he graduated from the journalism school at the University of Washington and joined The Olympian in 1951.
In his farewell column for his retirement in 1992, Shacklett noted that The Olympian “offered me $5 a week more than the news service thought I was worth — $50.50 as I recall — and I agreed to give them a year.”
He was the police reporter until he became the city editor in 1961. For many years, he held the top job in the newsroom, during which time he oversaw the transition from old industrial-style hot-type production at the corner of Capitol and State to the more colorful offset printing at the newspaper’s current home on Bethel Street.
He married his second wife, Virginia, in 1961, also her second marriage. Together they raised seven children in a blended family.
His son, Chris, recalled going to the paper on Saturday nights to check on the Sunday edition. “ ‘Is there any blood in the bucket?’ Dean would ask,” Chris said.
“Dean didn’t like bad things happening to anybody, but would want to brace himself immediately for what sort of night lay ahead. He truly liked to help people and the community,” his son said.
Shacklett edited The Olympian for Olympians, and in doing so, he sometimes bumped up against the wishes of his corporate owners, but his staff was always confident that he had their backs.
He hired generations of journalists, filling his newsroom with “nuts.”
“Only a nut would want to get into this business,” he told a job applicant. “What kind of nut are you?”
He hired many journalists who used The Olympian as a springboard to success elsewhere: Bill Knight became sports editor at the Seattle P.I.; Steve Kelley went on to be lead sports columnist at the Seattle Times.
As news of his death spread among the journalism community, the stories filled social media.
Nancy A. Parkes, faculty member at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, said she was the first Evergreen graduate Shacklett hired. The newspaper and the unconventional college had a sometimes contentious relationship in the early days.
“He mentored me from the proof room to a job with AP Olympia. He was a gruff and tough news man with a heart for his community and reporters,” Parkes said. “Without that initial interview/shouting match, I don’t know where life would have taken me.”
He had a reputation for making movers and shakers uncomfortable, former Olympia council member and Mayor Mark Foutch recalls.
But while he was never reluctant to hold people accountable, Shacklett’s door also was always open. Foutch said during his first year on the council he went in to talk to him “about something silly that only a first-year council member would go to the editor of the newspaper about.”
Often groups of disgruntled readers would descend on his office over what they perceived as a lack of coverage. Most often they would come out laughing and joking with him, never to be seen in the office again, said former news editor Chris Fruitrich.
In the final years of his career, he brought his deep knowledge of the community and his carefully crafted “Kindly Old Editor” curmudgeon persona to the editorial page.
From that office, he remained the lodestone and mentor for the newsroom until his retirement in 1992.
Mike Oakland, who succeeded Shacklett as editorial page editor, recalls his early days as a reporter.
“As a general assignment reporter, I covered the bitter, three-year dispute between St. Peter Hospital and an out-of-town company seeking state permission to build a second hospital on Olympia’s west side.
“One day I was greeted with a full-page advertisement in The Olympian, paid for by local radiologists as I remember, asking simply, ‘Two hospitals, why not two newspapers?’
“I went into Shack’s office not sure if that was my last day as a reporter.
“ ‘Am I in trouble?”’ I asked.
“He raised his head and, peering over the top of his glasses, said, ‘It’s nice to see you are a revenue generator for a change, instead of a revenue drain.’ He smiled, pointed toward the door and said, ‘Now get out there and get to work.’ ”
Shacklett was preceded in death by his wife in 2009. In his later years, his son, Chris, Laurie and Tristan Shacklett and recently Emily Browning helped take care of him in the family home.
He is survived by sons Doug Shacklett, Chris Shacklett and step-son Steve Parrott, all of Olympia; daughters Laura Shacklett of Olympia, and step-daughter Joan Browning of Vancouver, Washington; granddaughter Tristan Shacklett of Olympia, who was raised for a time by Dean and Virginia; 16 total grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.
The family does not plan to hold a service.
“He was largely a private guy in later years,” Chris said. “People would ask, ‘What are you going to do now that you’re retired, Dean?’ ‘Mind my own business,’ he said.”